Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Big South 2016 Preview

The Big South is shrinking faster than the shorelines on an Atlantic Ocean beach these days. Coastal Carolina announced last summer that they are bolting for the "greener" pastures of FBS and the Sun Belt, leaving the league with just six members, barely enough to hang on to their auto bid to the playoffs. Here's my look at the Big South Conference as we head into the 2016 season:

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Charleston Southern
2. Liberty
3. Monmouth
4. Kennesaw State
5. Gardner-Webb
6. Presbyterian

Charleston Southern
The Buccaneers are coached by rising star Jamey Chadwell, and every season moving forward that they are able to retain him is another win for the program.
Darius Hammond is back at RB and will return kicks for the Bucs again in 2016, and that is huge, as he will be relied on to carry the load while CSU breaks in a new QB after the departure of Austin Brown. Mike Holloway and Ben Robinson also return in the backfield, giving the Bucs the deepest group in the league. The line is deep and talented, so the offense should keep on rolling.
The defense lost stars in LB Aaron Brown and CB Malcolm Jackson, but there is enough depth and talent to make an easy transition.
The QB should be Kyle Copeland, but the battle will carry over into camp.

The Flames fell short in every way last season, and staff changes were made to compensate. Turner Gill will absolutely be on the hot seat heading into his 5th season, as he has failed to turn the corner in a very winnable conference.
Gill will have to replace his QB and top receiver for starters, and also loses one of the most reliable kickers in the nation in John Lunsford.
Liberty also loses their best defender on the edge in Chima Uzowihe.
With all of these losses, Liberty still has enough to finish in 2nd ahead of the pack, but Monmouth and Kennesaw State are knocking on the door.

Even though the Hawks finished 5-6, they struck fear into the rest of the league last fall. The line looks better this fall, and that should help RB Lavon Chaney develop as well. Cody Williams took his lumps as a freshman QB last fall, and should be better this season as well. He gets WR Darren Ambush back as his top target, which should help.
DE Darnell Leslie and CB Mike Bastile are the stars on defense.

Kennesaw State
The Owls are only in their second season playing college football, but they fit right in in year one, and could push for more this season.
Trey White is the trigger man in the triple option offense, and the Owls averaged just under 300 yards rushing per game. He needs more development from his weapons on offense, and will have to improve on his passing skills, all things in the works in fall camp.
There is no doubt that the Owls can beat anyone in this league right now, but they just need consistency.

The Bulldogs averaged just 12.8 points per game in 2015, and that trend looks to continue as they look for pieces to help them improve. The best player on offense is TE Mike Estes, and that's probably not a good thing as there really is no dependable QB to get the ball to him.
At the end of the day, it has been 13 years since the Bulldogs had a winning record, and that won't change soon.

Darrell Bridges at RB is the lone bright spot on what was otherwise one of the worst offenses in the nation last fall. There is no passing game to speak of, and the overall schedule is brutal. The Blue Hose had a winning record just two seasons ago, but that feels a long way off now.

Next Up: Colonial Athletic Association

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